Sunday, June 29, 2008

My quantum of solace

A recent re-viewing of the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale left me, oh, I don't know, somewhat dispirited perhaps. As a result, this Bond fan isn't as-of-yet excited for Bond 22, currently titled Quantum of Solace. Don't get me wrong, I'll go see it, and I'll be all about it, I just need some time to brood over these winds of change that I didn't even see coming.

What I mean is, Casino was originally billed as a prequel, and rightly so. It was Fleming's first novel and takes place before Dr. No. I was initially very excited and pleased overall with the resulting film (read my initial review here). My initial misgivings (see previous link) were rooted in my belief that it was indeed a prequel. But now I realize, as I should have all along, that it was not a prequel, but rather a complete reboot of the EON Bond Franchise. *Sigh*

It's ok, I guess. But this means that the Bond universe from Dr. No to Die Another Day has come to a close. Now there will be a completely new storyline, not bound by the canon of the first 20 films. This happens in comic books and comic book movies, it shouldn't happen in my favorite spy-novel film series. The late Cubby Broccoli probably wouldn't have done this if he were alive. Or at least that's what I keep telling myself. His children run EON now, and they did what they had to do to keep Bond going in this new millennium. I can't fault them too much, too many clever double entendres and invisible cars have been outpaced by a newer breed of action hero movies, à la the Bourne series, et al.

Well, I guess I have until November 7 to warm up to this new saga and chronology of James Bond. I will always have the original 20 films in my heart. Here are just a few things that I like (I certainly have many) from the first-generation Bond films (hereafter referred to as "gen-one"):

7. Bond Fights a Midget
The Man With the Golden Gun (1974)

James has had his share of formidable foes over the years, but none were more ferocious (and by ferocious, I mean annoying) than "Nick Nack," loyal personal assistant/henchman/butler to the twisted marksman Scaramanga. Portrayed by the great Hervé Villechaize, Nick Nack stood only only 1.18 meters (3'11").

Why is it every time you've taken down your archenemy and you're all set to make the moves on Britt Ekland aboard a slow boat to China, a midget pops out of nowhere and wants to fight, throwing expensive wine bottles at you? Bond is forced to fight the little bugger, and eventually captures him in a suitcase. Classic. I love midgets!

(By the way, Hervé preferred the term "midget" over "little person.")

6. Jaws' Heart of Gold
Moonraker (1979)

Having been bested by James Bond time and time again, the metal-mouthed muscle-for-hire "Jaws" finally crosses over to the good side when he learns that his boss Hugo Drax was not going to allow Jaws or his new girlfriend Dolly to be a part of the new Earth and probably dispose of him at the earliest possible convenience. Jaws took action and helped Bond and Dr. Goodhead take over Drax's spacestation. After helping Bond escape in Drax's shuttle, Jaws and his love settle down in an air-locked module of the crumbling station to toast their victory and new life together, "Well, here's to us..." As they drifted towards Earth, Bond assured Dr. Goodhead (and the audience) that they new couple would make it safely. Aww...

5. Man goes into cage, cage goes into water...
From Russia With Love (1963)
The evil SPECTRE assasin "Red Grant" in From Russia With Love - the one that tried too hard to come off as British by saying "old man" too much - yeah, that one, well that was legendary screen actor, novelist and playwright Robert Shaw. Yup, that's the cranky old man of the sea in Jaws, way before the years (and alcoholism) caught up to him. I just think that's noteworthy if not cool. I mean, look at him:

4. It's the little things
Subplots, factoids & revelations

Sometimes it's the little things that can add depth to the Bond universe. What I'm talking about are those little, blink-and-you'll-miss-them type things, that for whatever reason expand and shed light on things. Ok, maybe they're not important. But they do give you an edge when it comes to trivia. For instance, did you know Bond was orphaned when his parents died in a tragic climbing accident? (GoldenEye) And didn't you like seeing the inside of Bond's house? (Live and Let Die)

Or, did you know that [the first] M's real name was Vice Admiral Sir Miles Messervy, KCMG? (The Man With the Golden Gun) Or that he spent his free time on his home estate as a Lepidoptera enthusiast? (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) Or that Q has a name too? It's Major Boothroyd. (The Spy Who Loved Me)

And how could we forget the backstory to Octopussy? Bond had to arrest a fallen military hero named Major Dexter Smythe, and Bond gave him time to clear up his affairs. Smythe committed suicide rather than face the disgrace of a court-martial. His daughter Octopussy showed her gratitude by providing protection from the villainous Kamal Khan.

I don't know, I just like little things like that...

3. "I never miss."
Licensed to kill, for Queen and Country's sake

Ok, 007 is a killer, let's not forget that. That's what the double-0 means. But it's not glorious, of course. Double-0's do what they have to do. The safety of the UK and the rest of the free world depend on it. But sometimes, when Bond does his thing (the killing thing, not the fornicating thing), audiences just have to applaud and give some sort of equivalent to a resounding "BOOYAH!" Here are three of my favorites:

Fiona Volpe (Thunderball, 1965): This saucy, redheaded SPECTRE agent thought she was playing Bond, when Bond was really playing her. While dancing with her at the Kiss Kiss Club, he noticed an assassin's gun barrel aimed at him. Bond grabbed his dance partner and shielded himself from the bullet, which pierced Fiona's spine, killing her instantly. Nice work, Jimbo.

Emile Locque (For Your Eyes Only, 1981): This one is noteworthy, in part because this was a Roger Moore kill. The Roger Moore-era was a softer, gentler Bond, whose scripts are marked by more gadgetry from Q-branch, judo-chops and poorly constructed attempts at humor. Rarely did we see Moore just pop a cap in the bad guy without a long conversation first.

But this one was awesome in my book. While Locque was attempting to drive away, Bond shoots him, causing him to spin out, coming to rest on the edge of a cliff. With a stone cold look on his face, Bond approaches the vehicle, gives a short parting word to Locque, tosses the dove pin that Locque was leaving on his victims and kicks the teetering car over the edge. Stone cold, JB, stone cold...

Elektra King (The World is Not Enough, 1999): After playing James for a fool, his villainous former lover finds herself on the working end of Bond's Walther P99. Bond gives her one more opportunity to repent, to which she responds, "You wouldn't kill me, you'd miss me..." But before she can radio her evil comrade Renard - BLAAM!! Bond blows her away, and then tells her corpse, "I never miss."
To borrow a phrase from Snoop: when you dis Bond, you dis yourself.

2. Bond goes to Harlem. Seriously.
Live and Let Die (1973)

The call of duty has taken our gentleman spy to exotic locales the world over. But when an MI6 agent is killed at the UN, Bond is soon on the trail of a mysterious gangster, "Mr. Big."

The search required 007 to actually venture north of 110th Street, as he sought the Fillet of Soul restaurant, owned by Mr. Big. He wasn't exactly inconspicuous, but he got the job done.
1. Snow Angel
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

Having escaped Blofeld's retreat in the Alps, 007 was making his way through the crowded village, while chief henchwoman Irma Bunt and her thugs chase after him. Closing in on him, Bond seems to have no way out this time. Out of ideas, he found a seat alongside the ice rink, as fear, anxiety and the cold made him feel more isolated than ever. The look of worry on Lazenby's face says it all. There was no way he could win this one alone.

Then, Contessa Teresa di Vencenzo, "Tracy," whom he had been seeing upon the urging of her syndicate-boss father, appears in front of him - a most beautiful and welcome sight. Tracy sees that he's in mortal danger and helps him elude his hunters. The two would later get caught in a blizzard and were forced to take shelter in a remote barn on the outskirts of the village of Mürren. It is here where James decides he will find another line of work, because agents have no room in their life for love. Tracy had rescued him from Blofeld, but also from a life he no longer wanted. Bond proposed that night. His new life had just begun.

In a vein similar to the end of Casino Royale, this small episode of the story does the most to develop and drive the character of James Bond. It made him who he is (see #3 above). If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the movie. OHMSS is certainly not the best Bond film by far, but in my opinion, it is the best story of the series.

By all means, feel free to share your favorite Bond moments with the Briefcase below. See you at the movies on November 7...

"...I love you. I know I'll never find another girl like you. Will you marry me?"

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

from the Associated Press, June 26, 2008:

DMV Offers 10,000 Replacement
License Plates

"...Officials learned last year the common acronym stands for a vulgar
phrase in e-mail and cell phone text messages..."
the story here.